Unlike most other major holidays, Thanksgiving is really all about food and people. Everyone does it a little differently but for the most part we don’t have too many decorations that are up for long periods of time or notable plants brought into the house for the season, it’s really just a day, or a few days, especially if you cook a big meal, when you need to be careful. But even if you are vegetarian or vegan, parts of that meal can still be dangerous or downright toxic to your pets, especially cats, and visitors to your home can also either unknowingly bring dangers or totally freak out your pets.
Before covering the basic warnings, here are a few key points to remember—the same ones I always use to begin a holiday article, but I find it important to reiterate them each time:
1. Animals are not little people. Animals are simply a fraction of our size, so the effect of anything on them will be multiplied in their smaller bodies which don’t metabolize things the same as we do. Consider chocolate and raisins, both of which can be toxic in dogs and cats in smaller amounts than we would eat for fun. Consider aspirin, which a cat’s small body doesn’t metabolize quickly enough to avoid a possible overdose and can be fatal, but can safely be used in reasonable dosages in a dog as a pain reliever.
2. Animals don’t make reasoned decisions in the same way we do. They make decisions based on their own sensibilities as cats and dogs, and because we presume they can’t read or understand warnings about dangers to themselves, these decisions are based on curiosity and adventure and are not always in their own best interest.
3. Don’t ever think your cat or dog “wouldn’t eat that”. They would. Plan on it. Cats are a little more discerning than dogs in choosing what to eat, and even with that, in all the years I’ve had cats they’ve eaten, or attempted to eat, just about anything they could chew and swallow, including such foods as hot peppers, cookies and raw green beans—who would think?!
4. Don’t think your cat or dog “can’t get to it”. They can. They have nothing better to do than to stalk and kill your cheese plate, or the box with the curling ribbon. Confine them if they won’t stay out of something, or get it out of your house.
5. And a special one for the holiday season: Your change in routine will change your pet. Don’t presume you can predict what they will do. Animals are creatures of habit, but this is the one time of the year we intentionally break habits including daily schedules, entertaining guests, and arranging and decorating our space. Our pets may run the spectrum from happily helping to totally freaking out, but the change in plans will have an effect on them and they may not behave in their usual manner, either, making them much less predictable than we are accustomed to.
They can only get into what we leave available for them, so keep them in mind as you prepare. I have links to articles for more information about toxic plants, foods and other dangers at the end of this post.
LET’S GO OFF OUR DIET
Of all things, food is the greatest temptation, and the well-behaved animal who would never jump on the table, ever, might be irresistibly tempted and end up in the punch bowl.
Most of my cats today have very little interest in people food, possibly because the people food is never meat, but in past years my entire household would eat as much of a new and exciting food as I would give them or which they could steal, and I couldn’t trust their judgement of how much was enough or too much. At the top, my foster kitten Bella will eat ANYTHING, as I discovered when I left my dinner of baked sweet potato and green beans to get a glass of water and came back to find her enjoying both items.
It’s true that animals in the wild eat lots of things that we are told not to feed them, including animal bones, but the difference here is that animal bones tend to become brittle when cooked, especially avian bones, but fresh raw bones, while they can still splinter, are more flexible though still not appropriate for our pets when given whole. Turkey bones are out, even if they’re darned cute dragging around a leg bone like a prehistoric pet. Get the a toy that looks like one.
And don’t limit your cautions to what’s on your table or set out for guests, or what you may intentionally give as leftovers.
- If your cats are curious, like mine, they may also dive into your refrigerator and run off with a turkey leg, or a mouthful of stuffing with raisins and onions.
- Or if they have no pride, they’ll just dive into your garbage can as you clean the table—or while you and guests are at the table.
Baked goods, baked or not, and desserts
As you can see from my tortie girls, despite the fact cats have no taste buds for sweet flavors, baked goods like cheesecake—even the batter—cookies, pie crust, bread dough, just about any baked goods contain two things cats love and should never have except in tiny treat doses: fats and dairy products. Eating unbaked baked goods can make we humans pretty ill, and too many bites of them stolen while you’re cutting cookies or rolling out pie crust are not digestible and can make a cat or small dog quite ill and even be life-threatening for any animal.
Rich foods, even ones that are okay
Consider that you’ve been keeping your diet and eating salads and light meals, but decide to blow it all for Thanksgiving dinner and eat as much as you can fit, then eat some more. It sits pretty heavily afterward, right? And it might cause some various gastric upsets I won’t discuss here. That’s the same for your pets, but the consequences are higher for them to develop a life-threatening case of pancreatitis.
- Turkey is okay, too much turkey is not, and no skin or fat whatsoever, and no cooked bones.
- Mashed potatoes are okay, too much is not, and only if you haven’t added garlic or onion as a flavoring.
- Sweet potatoes are okay, but not if you’ve added marshmallow cream or lots of sugar for flavoring.
- Green beans are okay, but not if you include any fancy nut toppings.
- Remove gravies or sauces made with flour.
Candies and snacks
Be especially aware of food items that contain potentially toxic ingredients, and which may also pose a choking hazard. These foods contain compounds or cause reactions which can affect organ function or slowly poison a cat or dog.:
- anything sweetened with Xylitol
- macadamia nuts and walnuts—and any nuts considering a choking hazard
- raisins and seeds and pits from many fruits
Our favorite drugs
And alcohol and caffeine in anything—hot or cold beverages or in foods we’ve cooked, should always be avoided.
While we can treat our swollen stomach and raging bowels with various medications, our pets have limited options, and overeating can develop into a life-threatening condition if persistent diarrhea or vomiting develop and the animal becomes dehydrated. Eating too much of foods they aren’t accustomed to, or of rich and fatty foods, could result in a serious case of pancreatitis which requires intensive hospital care for several days after symptoms develop, then weeks or months of supportive care. Be reasonable with your handouts, whether they be treats or some forbidden human food.
Because of the general disorder in the household at this time and kitty’s propensity to play with any small portable object that’s fallen on the floor, be especially careful of even over-the-counter medications, and make sure that dinner guests observe the same cautions. Cats don’t metabolize medications like most other animals, even dogs, and a small white pill dropped on the floor or swatted off of a counter can become a deadly session of feline hockey or a fatal treat for your dog. Best to keep to catnip.
Because Thanksgiving is one of the holidays with the most travelers, that means a lot of strange people in a lot of houses with pets. It’s most important to just keep an eye on your furry companions for any changes in behavior and personality. Some cats are fine with chaos, but your cat may not handle changes in daily schedule very well, and your dog is upset because he just isn’t getting enough attention, including regularly scheduled walks. They’re considering leaving their “opinions” on the carpet in the dining room, or they’re acting totally out of character, either overly friendly and “misbehaving”, or suddenly surly and aggressive.
Before it gets to this, try to spend a little “quality time” with them just to reassure them of their exalted position in the household.
A ROOM OF OUR OWN
For indoor cats with formerly no intention to go outside and work for a living, everything has changed. Suddenly it’s looking pretty good outside the door, even with snow and cold, not like this madhouse, and no one may notice if they scoot out the door as a guest arrives or you come in the door loaded with groceries. The dog who normally asks to go outside may also bolt out the door into the night with your dinner about to go on the table.
And with all the hazards of open doors, food, cooking utensils and who knows what else, setting up personal quarters for your cats and dogs might be the best idea to keep them safe during the meal and clean up, at least for some periods during the day or during times when visitors are present, canapé trays are on every table and glasses of wine are poured.
Holiday Leftovers For Your Pets? has information on what’s good and what’s bad and how much people food is okay for your pets and Dr. Patrick Mahaney Debunks Thanksgiving Foods Safety Myths via AOL PawNation has a list of common-sense ways to feed your pets things that are good for them from your Thanksgiving meal. For more tips and information on holiday issues and potentially toxic foods, visit the Humane Society of the United States for Keep Your Pets Safe and Happy During the Holiday Season and the ASPCA’s Holiday Safety Tips. Both have tips and links to information on toxic plants and “pet-safe floral arrangements”, and various potentially toxic foods. Also keep a link the the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center for reference at the holidays and beyond.
So, do you get holiday gifts for your pets? Do your friends give your pets gifts along with you? Or better yet, do others give you gifts of cat or dog toys and treats?
Make sure your kitty has a great holiday!
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